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Seven Different Ways to Become a TEFL Teacher in China

Updated on March 8, 2019
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Ava moved to China in 2012. As a TEFL teacher she coaches students through the speaking part of their English examinations.

Have Fun as an ESL Teacher in China

Me and my wonderful student, Lulu, aged 17
Me and my wonderful student, Lulu, aged 17 | Source

They Want You!

The Good News

With a high demand for English teachers China is a good place to find steady, interesting and relatively well paid work.

However, the requirements are getting stricter and are being more readily enforced so do your research and make sure you have your qualifications and paperwork in order BEFORE you come.

What We'll Cover

This article will look at seven opportunities for teaching English in China;

  1. Kindergartens
  2. Schools
  3. Universities
  4. Training Centres
  5. Summer Camps
  6. Private Tutoring
  7. On-Line

The Basics

To work legally you will need a Foreign Expert work visa (FEC), the requirements for which are;

  • BA degree or above in any subject
  • Two years work experience in the field you're applying for
  • A clean Criminal Records check from your home country.

Play It Safe

Do not just turn up on a tourist visa hoping for the best.

Being a native speaker with no other skills, experience or qualifications will probably get you a low paying job in an unregulated school or organisation which may well be on the immigration watch list.

This is a pretty precarious situation entailing all kinds of risks and if things go wrong you can’t guarantee that the school will take care of you.

Don’t go down this route, it’s just not worth it. It can be tempting to just rush in, but it's always better to take your time and gain a full understanding of what to expect as well as how to prepare.

You Do Have Options

China offers a wonderful variety of opportunities wherein you can use and develop your teaching skills among children and adults, in many cases, outside of a traditional classroom.

1. Kindergarten

Generally known as nurseries in many other countries with the purpose of educating children from babies to about 4 years old.

Chinese government and privately run kindergartens stress the benefits of children interacting with a foreign English teacher from an early age, consequently parents prefer kindergartens which have native English speakers on staff.

Classes are short, usually about 20-25 minutes and will involve you moving from one group to another, with an average minimum of twenty children (sometimes more) in each class.

The work is fun if a little monotonous; singing English nursery rhymes, doing finger plays, TPR (total physical response), learning the alphabet and practising simple words. They may or may not ask you to follow a suitable textbook.

Hours are generally Monday to Friday from 8:30-5:30 with a three hour break in the middle of the day when the children and staff eat lunch and sleep. Be prepared to greet the children on their arrival at the gate in the morning.

The school will arrange for you to undergo a health check at the local hospital in order to obtain a mandatory and current health certificate.

The kindergarten will prefer you to have experience of and a love for working specifically with younger children.

Entrance to a Chinese Kindergarten

Simple ESL lessons are an everyday part of Kindergarten life in some parts of China
Simple ESL lessons are an everyday part of Kindergarten life in some parts of China

Kindergarten Pros and Cons


  • The work is easy and the pay is good
  • You get a free, delicious lunch five days a week
  • They will usually give you a free apartment although the standard can vary
  • A Chinese teaching assistant is assigned to all of your classes and will focus on discipline leaving you free to teach
  • Some kindergartens will give you airfare home as a bonus at the end of a completed contract


  • If you're not happy with your accommodation it can be difficult to move as the school will usually have already paid a non-refundable, year's rent in advance.
  • If you end your contract prematurely you will lose your work visa, residence permit and your home.
  • If you prefer to be able to have conversations with your students, kindergarten work is definitely not for you.

Teach TEFL in a Chinese High School

2. School

This involves teaching in government or private schools.

Government schools can have classes of 60 plus (yikes!) with usually no less than 40 students, a few of whom may sleep all the way through your forty minute class.

Don’t take it personally, they’re probably worn out from starting classes between 7 and 7:30am, sometimes for six days a week..

Some schools will ask you to help design the curriculum, just about all of them will expect you to do lesson plans, report writing and set tests and exams.

Even though the school may be open on Saturday, foreign teachers don't usually work on weekends.

School Pros and Cons


  • The school will take care of your work visa, arrange your health certificate, your accomodation and provide you with free lunches.
  • You don't have to work weekends.
  • Chinese students are generally better mannered and more motivated than Western students.
  • You may only have to work between 10 and 20 hours a week.


  • Classes may be very large (look for a reputable International school if you'd like higher pay and smaller class sizes).
  • There's not much room for flexibility in the teaching materials or in how lessons are taught.
  • You may have to do office hours when you are not teaching. Try to negotiate this point before you sign your contract.
  • You may not have a teaching assistant to help with discipline and translation.
  • Realising that you cannot enable all of your students - it's impossible as classes are just too large - can be very frustrating.

Teach TEFL at a Chinese University

Teach eager students, enjoy small class sizes, free accomodation and a light teaching schedule
Teach eager students, enjoy small class sizes, free accomodation and a light teaching schedule

3. University

Universities tend to offer two year contracts as opposed to the one year contracts preferred by kindergartens, schools and training centres.

Hours are also usually less but employers will expect you to have some experience of teaching at this level, unlike the other types of institution mentioned above, especially in the smaller cities, which are more open to hiring first time teachers.

Many university students sit English simply as an extra credit so may or may not be motivated to attend. This can make your job easier or harder, depending on how much you like a challenge!

University Pros and Cons


  • You are likely to have a lot of free time.
  • Your free accommodation is on campus which eliminates commuting time and costs.
  • Many of your students will have been learning English for years and will be happy for you to cover more complex topics in depth.


  • As mentioned above some students will only turn up to gain a mark as English is a non-elected but necessary course component.
  • Chinese students are not used to debating and expressing free thought so it could take a while to engage them in a Westernised way of learning.
  • Pay, although adequate, is not particularly high. Don't expect to save much even with free accomodation. If remonstration is very important to you consider seeking work in an International school which have more management positions and the best pay.

What About An English Language Training Centre?

Chinese Training Centre Reception Area
Chinese Training Centre Reception Area | Source

4.Training Centre

These facilities vary in their requirements with some providing a more relaxed environment than others. Some will offer you free accommodation or an allowance towards your accommodation and work visa, some won't, therefore you must do your research beforehand.

The more formal training school organizations such as English First and Wall Street are usually owned by big companies and consequently have a corporate mentality as well as standardized methods of teaching.

Within this structure, staff wear formal office attire and must be on the premises even when not teaching. Your work will be evaluated and you must follow the company format.

If you’re looking for a break from the rat race, avoid these. However, if you thrive in a tightly regulated environment and would like opportunities to take on a more senior role, they could be a good fit for you.

Teach English Abroad

Training Centre Reception Area 2
Training Centre Reception Area 2 | Source

More on Training Centres

Smaller training centres are usually owned and run by Chinese entrepreneurs. These have a relaxed dress code and informal atmosphere, making it easier to negotiate pay, hours of work and ideas for new, innovative teaching techniques.

Training centres generally cover two types of teaching; group classes (ranging from 4 to 10 students) and VIP.

VIP simply means one to one lessons.

All training centers provide classes during the daytime and evenings seven days a week, although foreign teachers usually get two days off.

If they only offer you one rest day, you can negotiate.

You will be expected to work weekends as this is the busiest teaching time.

Classes last from 45 minutes to two hours depending on the centre and you will teach adults and teenagers, sometimes a combination of both with varying levels of English.

Adult classes are often based on business language while teenagers practice for the IELTS. TOEFL or AEAS exams to enable them to study in universities abroad.

There’s a lot of flexibility in the material used and in how you teach.

Children's training centres are usually a franchise bought by an investor who is a business person and not an educator. They cater for children aged 3-12 and are run along the same lines as adult training centres.

Training Centre Pros and Cons


  • Independently run centres are relaxed, allowing flexibility and a degree of autonomy.
  • The pay is good and bosses are often open to negotiation.
  • Students are motivated as their parents pay a high price for them to attend the centre.
  • Students like to stay in touch with good teachers after leaving to study abroad.
  • There is the possibility to negotiate a good overtime rate.


  • Some training centres are better than others in both quality and conditions. You may have to change organisation a few times until you find one that fits you.
  • You could be teaching children and adults in the same group with both wanting to cover different things.
  • It can be hard to build up continuity as students come and go quite frequently.
  • You will be coaching students for exams for studying abroad, although this will make you proficient, it can get a little monotonous at times.

Spend a Month Teaching at an English Camp

Enjoying English Summer Camp
Enjoying English Summer Camp

5. Summer and Winter Camp

The name is a little misleading as it doesn't really have anything to do with camping. It's simply English classes during the long summer and slightly shorter Chinese winter holidays.

You will be teaching the same group of children either all day or just mornings or afternoons for five days a week, in a child based educational centre (but not a school). Learning is very active and interactive, the parents like to see the children happy and enjoying the camps, not feeling as though they're still at school which means that you have lots of leeway to plan physically active, fun classes.

Chinese teaching assistants are on hand and class sizes vary from 8 to 16 on average.

Many camps use a Power Point programme on a big screen for the main learning activitiies but you can also incorporate your own games and songs during the session.

Summer Winter Camp Pros and Cons


  • This is probably the most fun of all the different types of teaching in China.
  • The pay is very good. You can earn significant amounts in a short period of time.
  • It's a good way to connect with the children and their parents who may well invite you home, out to lunch and / or give you gifts.


  • The work has a time limit of one month for Winter camp and two months for Summer camp.
  • It's much easier to get a job if you're already here in China as centres usually want you to start within a short period of time, often within the following week or two.
  • Housing is not offered as it's a temporary role, neither are meals.
  • For this role work visas fall into the 'grey area' category.

6. Private Lessons

Can be picked up very easily.

Parents may approach you to teach their child if they see you eating in a restaurant or sitting in the park.

Others will ask you for private lessons outside of the school or training centre where you normally work and you could be asked to do extra classes on your days off by other organizations who can’t fill their own vacancies.

You may be asked to go to a younger student's home. Adults may wish to meet you in a public place.

It is also possible to build up a small and profitable clientele teaching conversational skills over a coffee in Starbucks. However there is little security in this method. Students, especially adults, may cancel regularly which could have a serious impact on your earnings.

Having said that because the demand for learning English is so great overall it’s likely that you’ll end up having to turn work down if you want time for yourself!

Ideas for TEFL Teaching

Creative ESL Lesson
Creative ESL Lesson | Source

Private Tutoring Pros and Cons


  • Total independence and autonomy.
  • Teach who and what you want to teach.
  • Set your own schedule and fees.
  • Earn an extra income from teaching privately in addition to your day job.


  • No security.
  • Loss of income if students cancel.
  • May take a long time to build up a student list.
  • You may have to source premises to teach which could then require you to become registered which is not an easy process in China.

Private ESL Tutoring Can Be Rewarding


7. Online Teaching

Teaching Online is now taking off in a big way as parents and older students look for cheaper, more convenient ways to learn and practice English.

New online teaching companies within China and the rest of the world are springing up at a rapid rate, offering valid part-time and sometimes full time employment for English language teachers.

With a good Skype connection and a website showing what you have to offer (or you can sign up to a teaching agency site, sometimes for a small fee or commission), you can teach students from all over the world, setting your fees and organizing your own schedule.

Naturally you don’t have to leave your home country to do online teaching, but the advantage of doing it in China is that you’re in China!

Update (2019): The Chinese internet firewall seems to be mightier than it's ever been making it much more difficult to teach using Skype or any Google applications.

For this reason most online teachers who are situated outside of China prefer to be employed by a Chinese online teaching company who handle all of the technical details. VIPKids and DaDa are two who currently hire on a regular basis and pay in US$. They expect teachers to be fully qualified and experienced with a clean criminal record.

There are also Phillippine and Vietnam based companies who hire teachers from the West to teach children in China online, but they may pay in local currency rather than US$. Because of the lower rate of pay, these companies may be a better option for new or less well qualified teachers.

Online Teaching Pros and Cons


  • Freedom to work from home or from anywhere in the world.
  • Flexibility in what you teach.
  • Choose your students; adults, children or both.
  • Earn an extra income whilst keeping your day job.
  • Easier to build rapport and a long-term relationship with students who actively want to learn.


  • You may pay a commission if you sign up with a teaching agency.
  • Could take a while to get students.
  • Pay may be low for a while as many students may only book demo classes initially.
  • You may be required to have a Broadband connection as opposed to wi-fi which is often seen as unreliable. Some agencies also require you to have a suitable home-office type environment.
  • Skills required are usually, BA in any subject, TEFL or similar and experience teaching online.

Valuable Help in the Classroom

The ESL / ELL Teacher's Survival Guide: Ready-to-Use Strategies, Tools, and Activities for Teaching English Language Learners of All Levels
The ESL / ELL Teacher's Survival Guide: Ready-to-Use Strategies, Tools, and Activities for Teaching English Language Learners of All Levels
The ESL/ELL Teacher's Survival Guide offers educators practical strategies for setting up an ESL-friendly classroom, motivating and interacting with students, communicating with parents of English learners, and navigating the challenges inherent in teaching ESL students.

The Fine Print

Don’t be fooled into thinking that teaching English abroad is an easy option just because you are a native speaker.

Chinese schools teach English grammar extremely well and consequently students will expect you to have excellent grammatical knowledge.

Parents have a strong desire to see swift progression in their child’s language skills, which is reasonable when you consider that education costs in China and training centres are expensive, especially in the bigger more progressive cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen where children are pushed very hard to achieve.

If you cannot give the required results, you may not pass your probation period with your school or training centre and you could be asked to leave before the end of your contract.

ESL Student Debate

Group Discussion Class
Group Discussion Class | Source

Final Thoughts

Lots to think about, I know, but hopefully now you'll have gained more clarity than before.

Think of this as time out with new experiences occuring every day. In terms of career progression it probably won't advance you greatly but you will gain other invaluable skills.

Don’t think too hard, you may end up talking yourself out of it. Just prepare and then DO.

If you are adaptable and adventurous you'll soon have many tales to tell along with memories that last a lifetime.

Good luck and for more information about this topic check out


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